Weighing the first 100 days

A HUNDRED days was time enough for the government of Robert Fico to implant its party cohorts at all levels of state administration, to start modifying laws, scrapping privatisation projects, reversing past reforms and irritating Slovakia’s neighbour.

A HUNDRED days was time enough for the government of Robert Fico to implant its party cohorts at all levels of state administration, to start modifying laws, scrapping privatisation projects, reversing past reforms and irritating Slovakia’s neighbour.

If the first 100 days of the government of Iveta Radičová are to be evaluated against its predecessor – which brought Vladimír Mečiar and his Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) and Ján Slota and his Slovak National Party (SNS) back to the halls of power and opened the state coffers to cronyism and corruption – then this editorial would feature expressive superlatives.

While a new government can always be evaluated with such comparisons, being fairer, more transparent and more articulate than the Fico government does not secure anyone on the Radičová team a gold medal in the Olympics of good governance.

Undoubtedly Radičová and her cabinet have set the country’s clock closer to the time zones of developed democracies and already in 100 days the atmosphere in society has become more breathable for those who found the incessant verbal attacks on all kinds of ‘enemies of the nation’, as defined by Fico and his lackeys, to be suffocating.

But the new government probably should have been a little more careful with its grand promises delivered in the euphoria of winning the election, since so far it has not changed much in relation to the most damaging laws and administrative meddling put in place by the Fico government.

The new government clearly lost some of its nerve when it came to modifying the horrid 2009 State Language Act. Though Culture Minister Daniel Krajcer re-dressed the legal scarecrow in slightly less menacing clothes, he preserved the fines pushed through by his predecessor for breaches of the Slovak language, though it is exactly those fines that bother domestic and international critics the most.

The fact that the law isn’t just a harmless piece of paper to inspire the preservation of the full-blooded euphony of the Slovak language can be easily demonstrated by the recent €1,500 fine imposed on the weekly newspaper MY Nitrianske Noviny by the Slovak Trade Inspectorate based on Slovakia’s Advertisement Act, which requires that ads meet the legal attributes of a public announcement, as defined by the State Language Act.

Many had hoped that the Radičová government, perhaps also due to the presence of Béla Bugár’s Most-Híd party, would be able to resist temptations to satisfy the unquenched hunger of the camps of nationalist voters. Well, a more convincing revamping of the State Language Act would blow some more real air into that hope, just like removing all the 19th century dust from the Patriotism Act would.

Still, there is much the Radičová government deserves credit for accomplishing in 100 days, such as ordering government institutions to publish their purchasing contracts online. Actually, this is exactly how the Hayek Consulting controversy was first exposed by the media and has ended with the departure of one the involved state secretaries.

Also on the plus side, as Grigorij Mesežnikov of the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO) has noted, the Radičová government made swift and effective efforts to improve relations with neighbouring Hungary.

The ability to keep its promise on limiting MPs’ immunity from prosecution will be another tough test for this government. And it must effectively deal with the already pumped-up ire of trade unions that object to the government’s austerity package that seeks to start healing the country’s catastrophic public finance deficit.

Surely, austerity packages have never been the kinds of legislation that win the hearts of the masses. But perhaps if the Radičová government is less hasty in declaring certain proposals only to modify them within a few days, then it would gain more credit from political and economic observers as well as the Slovak electorate.

Some say the new government is too quick to react to different pressures or even to opinions expressed on social networking sites. If this is part of developing and extending public discourse, that’s fine. But if these hasty reactions result in scrapping or quickly modifying already declared plans, then the public and the media can rightly ask how solid the government’s arguments for its ideas are.

Though 100 days is a traditional frame for doing some political scorekeeping, it is also very little time when viewed from the perspective that a couple of very bad decisions can ruin not only several successful months but many years of effort. Hopefully, the Radičová government will soon begin to earn credit for more than just being better than its predecessor – because that alone means next to nothing.

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